Vermont Considers Building New Prison, Among Other Options

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont Department of Corrections published a report in January that addresses the current condition of correctional facilities in the state, outlining four options to address the state’s aging facilities and the future needs of Vermont’s incarcerated population. Options include building a new prison, completing construction at current facilities, closing facilities or simply keeping things as is.

Vermont officials are strongly considering the first option, which includes building a new 800-bed prison to replace aging facilities in partnership with a private company. Both national prison companies and local construction firms expressed interest in a partnership, according to the report. The estimated $140 million construction cost would be funded through bonds or one of these private partnerships, which would allow the private company to build and own the facility and then lease it to the state to run operations at the prison.

The new prison’s 800 beds would be almost twice the amount of the total capacity of the state’s largest prison in Newport. A new prison would allow the state to almost entirely shut down its out-of-state prison program, according to VT Digger, a local news organization. It would also allow the state to shut down prisons in Windsor, Swanton and South Burlington — all of which have the highest per-inmate costs in the state. The state would also be able to earn about $3 million by leasing prison beds to the U.S. Marshals Service for federal inmates and detainees.

Opponents to the new prison, including Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, said that union members disagree with the concept of a private company owning a prison in Vermont, reported VT Digger. They’re concerned that a private company could not only increase the cost of the lease down the line, but are also concerned that they could eventually take over all functions of the facility.

Option 2 in the report looked at completing a new, 100-bed unit as well as vocational space to expand inmate work and training at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. The expansion would cost the state about $5 million. While option 3 includes not changing anything and keeping state operations as is, option 4 ignores current and longer-term, in-state facility needs and opts to close facilities to meet state budget needs.

Only time will tell as to what the state decides to do to meet the current demands for corrections.